The Wisconsin Badgers (2-3 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) dominated Illinois (2-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) in all facets of the game, en route to a 24-0 shut out and Wisconsin’s first conference win of the season.
This was Wisconsin’s first meeting with former head coach Bret Bielema, who was at the helm of the Wisconsin program for seven seasons, compiling a 64-24 record including three-straight Big Ten Championships to conclude his tenure.
Bielema entered the game looking for career win No. 100, but his offense wasn’t even able to match that in total yards on Saturday afternoon. The Wisconsin defense, who leads the nation in rushing defense allowing 42.6 yards per game, was as advertised against the Illini, allowing just 26 yards on the ground on 13 attempts.
Of the Illini’s 26 rushing yards, Chase Brown gained 23 of them on a single rush, which was the longest play from scrimmage for the Illini. Brown finished the game with 35 yards, while the rest of the team rushed for negative-nine yards on five carries.
The Illini pass offense did not fair much better, as the team only gained 67 yards through the air.
Illinois lost starting quarterback Brandon Peters early in the game to injury, after he went 3-of-7 passing the ball for 12 yards and he was then relieved by Artur Sitkowski, who started 0-for-12 and ended the game 8-of-27 for 55 yards.
Illinois managed a mere nine first downs in the game, with five of them coming off of Wisconsin penalties, as Wisconsin committed nine penalties in the game for 101 yards. That was the most since the team had 125 penalty yards in a win over Purdue in October 2018.
Overall, Illinois was 1-of-12 on third down and a 1-of-3 on fourth down. The Illini’s two longest drives of the game lasted for eight and 12 plays — they were their last two drives of the game, when Wisconsin started to play more of their backups on defense, both ending on failed fourth down conversions.
Wisconsin’s defense was led by Noah Burks (six tackles, three for loss, three QB hurries) and Leo Chenal (five tackles), who teamed up for the team’s only sack of the day. Nick Herbig had three of Wisconsin’s 11 pass break ups.
On the other side of the ball it was vintage Badger football, as the offensive line imposed its will on the Illinois defense all day.
The Badgers rushed for 391 yards as a team and had two 100-yard rushers, for the first time since 2018, when Jonathan Taylor (159) and Taiwan Deal (111) each rushed for 100+ in a 49-20 victory over Illinois.
Chez Mellusi led the way for Wisconsin, registering his third 100-yard game of the season, rushing 21 times for 145 yards and one touchdown. Close behind Mellusi, was 17-year-old freshman Braelon Allen, who rushed 18 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Allen was a wrecking ball, averaging 7.3 yards per carry, breaking tackles left and right, while running through the Illini defenders. Fullback John Chenal also added a touchdown and 28 yards, coming on a career-high nine carries. Chenal chipped in two receptions for 14 yards as well.
With the Wisconsin offense being paced by the rushing attack, Wisconsin did not have much need for the passing game, with Graham Mertz finishing 10-of-19, for 100 yards and an interception.
Mertz, who was just a week removed from a chest injury that knocked him out of the Michigan game, had a couple of passes that wound up a bit short, including his interception and a second pass that was intended for Jake Ferguson, who was wide open and would have scored had the ball had more air under it.
However, that was not Ferguson’s only target of the game, as the senior tight end caught one pass for 13 yards, extending his streak of consecutive games with a reception, to a school record, 39-straight games, which is every game he has ever played in.
Chimere Dike led Wisconsin with receptions, with three (22 yards) and Kendric Pryor led in yards with 47, coming off of two receptions. Pryor leads the team with 33 targets on the season, with Ferguson coming in second with 26 target.
Wisconsin returns home next weekend, as they host Army (4-1) under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium, with a 7 p.m. CT kick. Wisconsin’s rushing defense will be tested in the matchup, as Army’s triple option attack averages 318.2 yards on the ground per game.